18th Sunday after Trinity – Sermon 46
Prayer to start
May the words of my lips and the thought of our hearts be graciously received for the Glory and Honour of our Lord Jesus Christ
How responsive are we?
How good are we at understanding and responding to what people tell us?
If you ask that question to one of the telephone sales people that always seem to ring us up at the most inconvenient time – they would probably claim most of us are either – stone deaf – too busy to listen – or "not today thank you
But when we are confronted with God’s word and Grace – are we equally as non- committal? – or are we prepared to put ourselves out – and respond to His call –
Our readings this evening give us examples of how different people have responded to God’s Grace and love – we have the faithfulness and commitment of Caleb – the error and sin of the Pharisees and Scribes – we also have the perfect response of Jesus. We are going to look at all three to see if it helps us understand how we should respond to God’s grace
In our OT reading we are told about the rewarding of Caleb –
Caleb and Joshua were among the twelve spies sent by Moses during the Exodus from Egypt – to bring back information on the land and people of Canaan –
They were told to go boldly in and bring back some of its fruit
The spies came back with large bunches of grapes and great reports of the lands wealth and prosperity
but it was also occupied by some fearful people especially the giants of Anak – who lived around Hebron –
10 of the spies came back so disillusioned and so convinced that they would never win a battle against these people – that they turned on Moses and convinced the people that they would have been better off back in Egypt
Only Caleb and Joshua had sufficient faith in God to know that He would enable them to take the land – They gave an alternative report to Moses and appealed to the people to put their trust in the Lord –
As judgement on the people – for their lack of faith – a whole generation was not allowed to enter Canaan – and they spent their time wandering in the wilderness. Only Caleb and Joshua were allowed to live long enough to enter the land – and both had important roles to fulfil in the taking of Canaan many years later –
Because of Caleb’s faith in God he was promised possession of the land occupied by the Anakites – and he personally led the forces that defeated the giants – in our reading we see him receiving the area around Hebron from Joshua as is inheritance
Obedience and faith in God’s commandment is not easy – Caleb faced an angry crowd – and a hostile enemy – and held firm to his belief in the promises of his Lord –
Caleb’s wholehearted commitment and adventurous faith in God became an example for future generations –
Even in the decades to come when Joshua rose to the dizzy heights of becoming Moses assistant – and he shrank into obscurity – Caleb remained a loyal servant – and was ready to act when called upon –
His whole life became an instrument of faith in God’s hands – To believe in God’s promises was one thing – but to act and live your life upon them is another
Point 2 Response of the Pharisees and Scribes
In our NT lesson we see the other side of the coin – the responses of the Scribes and Pharisees – they too claimed to be instruments of faith – but in fact behaved as instruments of corruption. The reading focuses on the responses of the Pharisees and Scribes to the do’s and don’ts of the Sabbath –
The disciples action to pluck heads of corn was not in itself illegal – travellers were allowed – within Jewish Law – to take corn in this way – as long as they only used their hands – it what was the fact that they did it on the Sabbath – that they claimed was wrong –
Orthodox Jews took the 4th commandment very seriously – To them it is not just a day off work – but a sign of Israel’s special covenant relationship with God – a gift from God to make Israel more Holy – and a witness to God’s creation and of His promises for them
But – over the years – the Scribes and Pharisees decided that- it was too flexible – and open to interpretation by individuals – so they re-interpreted and expounded it – to make it a regulation for life – until by NT times the average Jew could no longer understand what he was or was not supposed to do – without having expert help – which served to increase the power and importance of the Pharisees and Scribes even further –
They defined 31 areas of work that were expressly forbidden on the Sabbath – and when accusing the disciples of carrying out such work – they claimed the plucking of the grain – was a form of reaping – the rubbing of the hands – threshing – separating the corn from the chaff was winnowing – and the whole process – constituted preparing of a meal – meals that were eaten on the Sabbath had to be prepared the day before –
As far as they were concerned what the disciples did was illegal and they should be punished –
Jesus’ reply was to remind them about the exceptions – David who ate the shew bread – and the priests who carried out the Temple work – they could break the Law because of who they were – the implication being that someone far greater is now here – that has even greater authority to rule over laws concerning the Sabbath
Then He quotes words of Hosea – mercy and kindness are more important to God than rituals and sacrifice – to remind us – that the greatest service we can offer to God – is in the service of human need –
So far Jesus is defending His disciples – not Himself – but in the next part of the passage we see Jesus putting His words into practice –
He goes into a Synagogue and publicly heals a man with a paralysed hand –
Jewish Law forbids any form of healing on the Sabbath unless it is a life threatening situation – there is even strict adherence to this – even in the midst of battle which cost Jewish armies many lives.
Jesus’ response this time is not to assert His own authority – or quote the OT – but to point to the inconsistencies of their own practice – they were strict at prohibiting another man’s healing but not where their own property was concerned –
their sheep would be helped if it were trapped in a pit – rather than be left to suffer -so – how much more important is it that they help their fellow men
– there is no time so sacred that it cannot be used to help others – we will not be judged by the number of church services we have attended or the number of chapters in the bible we have read – but by the people we have helped – when their need came crying to us –
The Pharisees and Scribes had corrupted one of God’s gifts in order to fulfil their own desires for power – and position – to the average Jew the 4th commandment was no longer a joy to give thanks for – but a burden – to live with – and when faced with the realities of their situation – the Pharisees and Scribes realised Jesus was a real threat to them and plotted to kill Him –
The Scribes and Pharisees were not willing to forsake the past and respond to the new opportunities presented to them by Jesus
Point 3 Jesus Chrsit
Jesus came to bring justice – to the world – He showed us how to live to enable both God and the people around us receive their proper place in our lives – He stated our laws of life and demonstrated them to us through His own –
Matthew’s longest OT quote is given in this passage –
to emphasize the contrast between the violent opposition of the Pharisees and the gentleness and character of Jesus portrayed in Isaiah 42
"Here is my servant, whom I have chosen
my beloved in whom I take delight"
words reminiscent of the voice heard at Jesus’ baptism
"I will put my spirit upon Him, and He will proclaim justice among the nations"
Matthew’s mention of the Spirit reinforces the fact that His mission which – as was then inaugurated – is now being fulfilled – that Jesus comes with the authority of God –
"He will not strive, He will not shout nor will His voice be heard in the streets"
Jesus persuades people through love and understanding – rather than confrontation
"He will not snap off a bruised reed, nor snuff out a smouldering wick"
However weak and feeble our faith is – it will not be treated with contempt – but with be met by a compassionate and encouraging Christ – His aim will be to strengthen our faith not diminish it –
However small the fire of faith burns within us – He will always encourage it to burn brighter – and He will never put it out – whatever faith the Scribes and Pharisees had – Jesus tried to encourage it – not extinguish it –
Jesus is our hope – He brought with Him an invitation to share and accept God’s love – whatever the Scribes and Pharisees had done in the past – they too were offered a new opportunity to start again –
No matter how damaged we are – He will heal us – Jesus brings both truth and love together –
Love is at the centre of the Christian life and our relationship with God – we struggle to love others – but God loves all of us – He gave His only Son to die on the cross so that our sins can b forgiven – and we can establish a new relationship with Him –
Jesus is the way the truth and the life –
There is nothing more basic to the Christian than the person and work of Jesus Christ – without Him there can be no Christian response
Ending How do we measure up?
When Jesus asks for our help through the people we meet – what is our response – is it not today thank you – or – Do we live our lives “loyally carrying out the purposes of God” – like Caleb?
Do we allow our own priorities to determine our behaviour like the Pharisees and Scribes? – or – Do we give a gentle caring response as Jesus would –
Whatever in appropriate responses we have made in the past – Jesus can wipe the slate clean – and give us a fresh start – through His flame our faith will be encouraged to glow brighter and stronger –
In the words of our collect:
Through Jesus we can forsake all that lies behind – and reach out to what is before
Through Jesus we can run the way of God’s commandments – and through Jesus win the crown of everlasting Joy
Prayer to finish
In the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit